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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                        JQJ
A nurse came panting into the ward and told Vasily
Vasilyevich that there was a telephone call from the
Council of People's Commissars. The professor rose
heavily, and from the way he rested his puffy, peeling
hands on his knees and bent his back in doing so, one
could see how much he had aged during the past few
weeks. At the door he turned round to Meresyev and
said cheerfully:
"So don't forget to write to ... what's his name .,.
your friend, I mean ... and tell him that I prescribe a
beard for him. It's a tried remedy ... and extremely
popular with the ladies!"
That evening, an old attendant at the clinic brought
Meresyev a walking-stick, a fine, old ebony stick with a
comfortable ivory handle bearing a monogram.
"The professor sent you this," said the attendant.
"Vasily Vasilyevich. It's his own. Sent it to you as a
present. He said that you were to walk with a stick."
Things were dull in the hospital on that summer eve-
ning and so the patients in the wards on the right, the left
and even from the floor above, took excursions to ward
forty-two to see the professor's present. It was, indeed,
a fine walking-stick,
15
The lull before the storm at the front dragged on.
The communiques reported fighting of local importance
and skirmishes between scouting parties. There were
fewer patients in the hospital now, and so the chief
ordered the unoccupied beds in ward forty-two to be
removed. Meresyev and Major Struchkov had the ward
to themselves; Meresyev's bed was on the right and the
major's on the left, near the window facing the embank-
ment.
Skirmishes between scouting parties! Meresyev and
Struchkov were experienced soldiers, and they knew
that the longer the lull, the longer this strained calm
lasted, the fiercer would be the storm that would
follow it,
One day there was a reference in the communique to
sniper Stepan Ivushkin, Hero of the Soviet Union, who